Detente

Detente

John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev both realised that the Cuban Missile Crisis could easily have resulted in nuclear war. In order to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding during an international crisis, they decided to set up a hot-line, which would provide them with a direct means of communication. Kennedy and Khrushchev also entered into negotiations to explore ways of reducing the nuclear threat. As Kennedy explained, both sides had "a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race" and in August 1963, both sides agreed to ban all tests of nuclear devices, except those carried out underground.

Relations between the Soviet Union, China and the USA deteriorated during the Vietnam War but by the early 1970's the situation improved with governments supporting the policy of détente. Richard Nixon met Zhou Enlai in February 1972. He also twice visited Moscow (1972 and 1974) and Leonid Brezhnev went to Washington in 1973.

In July 1975 the leaders of all the major countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, signed the Helsinki Agreement, that accepted the European frontiers which had been drawn up after the Second World War. This included the acceptance of two German states, the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Georgi Arbatov, Soviet Central Committee, interview, (1983)

In a cold-war environment, everything moves on the level of a cheap western. You have a concrete enemy who is the source of all evil . . . The philosophy of détente is much more sophisticated and difficult to grasp. One has to be broad-minded and tolerant enough to understand the possibility and the desirability of coexistence and cooperation between nations that are vastly different in their social systems, political institutions, values, sympathies and antipathies. One would have to realize that relations between them aren't a zero-sum in which one side wins exactly as much as the other side loses, and that despite all differences and difficulties they still might have overwhelming mutual interests.

(2) Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War (1982)

When the United States moves to overthrow the government of Iran or Guatemala or Chile, or to invade Cuba or Indochina or the Dominican Republic, or to bolster murderous dictatorships in Latin America or Asia, it does so in a noble effort to defend free peoples from the imminent Russian (or earlier, Chinese) threat. Similarly, when the USSR sends in tanks to East Berlin, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or Afghanistan, it is acting from the purest of motives, defending socialism and freedom against the machinations of U.S. imperialism.

(3) Willy Brandt, A Peace Policy for Europe (1968)

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is first and foremost an effective defence alliance. It prevents potential opponents from being tempted to exert political pressure on any one of the allies through military force. But constant effort is required to maintain this defensive strength in the face of constantly advancing technical development. We realise that the commitment in Europe is a great burden on the United States.... I am afraid that the time for any significant lightening of the United States' burden has not yet come.

NATO and a policy of détente are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, the existence of NATO - that is, its political weight and its readiness to defend our territory against all attacks - has shown that a policy of tensions and crises is of no avail. The weakening of NATO would reduce the possibility of a détente and lessen its effectiveness. The military deterrent has ensured the peace of Europe.... Military security and détente do not contradict, but supplement each other. Without the firm support of the alliance we cannot carry on any policy of détente. Similarly the political objective of the alliance will not be realised without an East-West détente.

(4) Alexander Bovin, Izvestia (April 1980)

The point is that the developments forced us to make a choice: we had either to bring in troops or let the Afghan revolution be defeated. It was not a simple decision to take. We knew that the victory of counter-revolution and of religious zealots and revenge seeking zealots would result in a bloodbath ... We knew that the victory of counterrevolution would pave the way for massive American military presence in a country that borders on the Soviet Union and that was a challenge to our country's security.

(5) Jonathan Steele, The Soviet Union: What Happened to Detente? (1982)

Few people would deny that the Soviet Union and the West are launched into a new cold war. Exactly when it began and who is to blame are fiercely debated, but it is generally agreed that there was a period - now finished - in East-West relations between 1970 and 1976 which could be called an era of detente. During that time there were four US-Soviet summit meetings, three of them on Russian soil. In 1972 Richard Nixon became the first American President to visit Moscow, fifty-five years after the Russian Revolution. His signature on an agreement limiting long-range offensive arms (SALT 1) and a declaration on 'Basic Principles of Relations between the USA and the USSR' was followed over the next four years by a score of lesser treaties, covering everything from trade and grain supplies to a link-up in space of astronauts from the two countries.